Language Access and COVID-19 Information – How’s the World Doing?

By: Cheryl

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 as a pandemic, the widespread of the novel coronavirus officially became a global issue. As of today, most of the countries in the world have published official instructions on how to self-assess, how to prevent the disease, and what to do if one’s close contacts have tested positive for the virus.

Most of these guidelines are written in each country’s official languages. However, the prevention of a contagious disease is a concern for all humanity that goes beyond politics, which brings us to the following question: how well-prepared are we to protect every single person in our communities?

We did some research into each province and country’s effort in providing language access to disease-prevention information. (It is entirely possible that we have missed some of the available sources, and we encourage readers to inform us if we have missed any).

On a national scope, here’s each province’s effort.

  • Ontario offers the information in two languages: English and French. Downloadable information sheets linked at the end of the page offer translations for 29 other languages, including Indigenous languages such as Cree and Ojibwe.
  • Saskatchewan offers the information in two languages: English and French, while enabling some of the COVID-19 related pages to be translated into all languages that Google Translate supports, from Afrikaans to Zulu.
  • British Colombia’s government webpage offers information in English, while the province’s Centre for Disease Controlhas Q&A sheets in Chinese, Farsi and Punjabi.
  • Quebec offers English and French.
  • Manitoba provides English and French.
  • Alberta provides information mostly in English, while one page directs users to all webpages available in French. Alberta Health Services takes a similar approach and provides webpages for services in Chinese, Arabic, French, Punjabi, Spanish, Tigrinya and Vietnamese, although COVID-19 related information is not included in these pages.
  • Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon webpages are in English and French.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador’s website offers English and French, while COVID-19 related information is only available in English.
  • Nunavut provides information in English, French, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut.
  • The Northwest Territories offers information in English, French, Chipewyan, Gwich’in, South Slavey, North Slavey, Tłı̨chǫ, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut.

On an international level:

  • WHO offers information in its six working languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic and Russian.
  • Government of Canada’s website is available in three languages: English, French and Simplified Chinese, while downloadable information sheets are provided in Chinese, Farsi, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, Vietnamese, Arabic and Russian, depending on the webpage you look at.
  • Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. offers both English and Spanish content the website, with downloadable information sheets in 64 languages, from Amharic to Wolof.
  • The Government of France provides information in French and English.
  • Germany’s website offers languages in German, English and French. Downloadable information sheets include Turkish, Arabic and Russian.
  • The U.K.’s government website is in English only. Downloadable guidelines for self-isolation can be found in Welsh, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Gujarati, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu.
  • Japan’s Ministry of Health has website content in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. Local governments also provide languages including Tagalog, Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino, depending on the prefecture.
  • China’s government website offers content in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English. Information in some of the main minority languages are aired on national TV, including Mongolian, Standard Tibetan, Kazakh, Korean and Uyghur. Information in Chinese dialects and regional minority languages are provided on a local level through print materials, including Hubei dialect, Jingpo language, Gyalrongic languages and Loloish languages.
  • Australia provides website content in English, while offering translated resources in Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Farsi, Italian and Korean.
  • New Zealand government provides information in Te reo Māori, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and New Zealand Sign Language.

It’s a great comfort for us to see that so many countries, even those that have only one official language, are incorporating more than one language into their critical information provided to the public. As we move into an era when information is shared without borders, and language services become the essential tool in exchanging ideas, it’s a wonderful sign to see minority and Indigenous languages being valued and being paid respect.